NLL Mid-season report: East division

We’re half-way through the school year NLL season, so it’s time for report cards. Let’s have a look at each team and see how they’re doing offensively and defensively. I’ve assigned letter grades to each team’s offense and defense (which includes goaltending). Note that despite the fact that I’ll be spouting off stats all over the place, the letter grades are purely subjective based partially on the stats but partially on my own impressions of the team. The letters compare roughly thus:

A 2011 Rock (Champions)
B 2011 Stealth (Finished 3rd, but did well in the playoffs)
C 2011 Mammoth (Crappy record, but made the playoffs)
D 2011 Rush (did not make the playoffs)
F Syracuse Smash

In case you are unfamiliar with the logo, that would be the Syracuse Smash, who went a combined 6-30 (0-18 on the road) in three NLL seasons from 1998 to 2000. In one of those seasons, they went 1-11 and allowed 72 more goals than they scored – they allowed an average of more than 17 goals per game. In 2001, the Smash moved to Ottawa to become the Rebel, who were only marginally better. Only the Charlotte Cobras, who went 0-10 with 18.6 goals against per game in their only season (1996), were worse than the Smash. But at least the Cobras’ logo was cool – the Smash have the honour of having the worst logo in the history of sports.

Anyway, back to 2012. We’ll start with the NLL East.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

Offense: C-

I suggested in the pre-season that the Bandits could be a very good offensive team with the additions of Wiles, Buchanan, and Giles. But alas, it was not to be. John Tavares is having his best offensive season in years and Wiles has been great. Giles hasn’t been bad but Buchanan only has two goals and Tracey Kelusky only has four. The Bandits are sixth in the league in goals per game at 11.7.

Defense: C

The Bandits are tied with the Wings for second in the east with the lowest goals against per game, at 12.7. Good news, right? Well, no. In this case, tied for second in the east also means tied for sixth in the league. Only two teams have worse numbers – the Knighthawks at 12.8 and the Stealth at 13. The goaltending wasn’t that bad but just got better with the addition of Anthony Cosmo. Mike Thompson started off with two very good performances, enough to make him the starter in the All-Star game where he played very well. But then the Bandits lost four in a row which wasn’t entirely his fault, but I suppose Darris Kilgour figured a bit of a shakeup was necessary. Having two goalies this good fighting for playing time is a problem many GMs wouldn’t mind having.

Overall: C

The Bandits have only played six games, and have had two bye weeks in a row. The NLL schedule maker will not be getting a Christmas card from Darris this year, methinks. Despite losing four in a row, the Bandits haven’t looked terrible, except maybe in the game against Minnesota. There’s too much talent on this team to continue losing for much longer so I expect a better second half from the Bandits, particularly with their new goaltending tandem.

WingsPhiladelphia Wings

Offense: C+

Dawson is second in the league in scoring, Crowley is eighth. Mundorf and Westervelt have also been good and Brodie Merrill leads the league with 3 short-handed goals. The team is seventh in the league with 11.3 goals/game.

Defense: B+

The Philly defense has been inconsistent. They’ve held opponents to 10 or fewer goals three times, but allowed 15 or more twice. Their overall goals against per game is 12.7 (tied with the Bandits for 6th) but if you take out that one blowout, it’s 11.2, which is good for third. Giving them an B+ because they’ve been pretty good in the last few games and I was very impressed with the Wings defense in their win against the Rock.

Overall: B-

Yes, they’re tied for first in the East, but three of their four wins have come against the Bandits and Stealth. They blew the Rock out of the water, and then got beaten handily by them 2 weeks later. They lost to the lowly Rush. If the Wings can get some consistency, they could be dangerous in the playoffs.

KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

Offense: A

The Knighthawks are the only team in the league with six players with 20 or more points – even the Roughnecks only have five. However, the Knighthawks are also the only team to have played 8 games. They are third in the league at 12.8 goals per game.

Defense: D-

They have given up exactly the same number of goals as they’ve scored. Their 12.8 goals against is second-worst in the league, ahead of only Washington.

Overall: C+

Like the Wings, the Knighthawks have been inconsistent. They scored 22 in their first game, then lost their next three. They lost five of their top players and won, then got most of them back and lost. There seems to have been a few different teams calling themselves the Knighthawks this year – they really need to figure out which one they are.

RockToronto Rock

Offense: B

The Rock with Colin Doyle for a full game are 0-3. The Rock with Doyle for less than half the game (or not at all) are 4-0. Doyle’s been more of a setup guy than a goal scorer over the last few years, so maybe the problem is that with the return of Josh Sanderson, the Rock now have two setup guys. Sanderson may be deferring to Doyle because Josh is the new guy and Colin’s the captain, but that means Josh isn’t playing his game. Without Doyle, Sanderson can return to what he does best. Hopefully when Doyle returns, he’ll let Sanderson continue to run the show and Doyle can focus on shooting more and passing less.

Stephan Leblanc still has not shown his full potential this year, but in the absence of Doyle and Manning, Sanderson and Garrett Billings have really stepped up. In the last four wins, the Rock have scored 13, 14, 15, and 16 goals, so they’re going in the right direction. They are fifth in the league with 12.1 goals per game.

Defense: B+

Other than the one game against Philly, Matt Roik has been solid all season and has kept the Rock in games. And even in the Philly game, he certainly wasn’t “on” but he wasn’t horrible either. The defense in front of him has also been solid despite the rash of injuries (Phil Sanderson, Stephen Hoar, Drew Petkoff, Rob Marshall, Patrick Merrill, Bruce Codd, and Bill Greer have all missed games due to injury – and that’s not counting forwards Colin Doyle, Blaine Manning, and Rob Hellyer). The Rock are fourth in the league with 11.7 goals against / game.

Overall: B

After a slow start, the Rock really pulled it together and started playing like the defending champs – until they got smoked by Philly. But they recovered to beat Rochester a week later. Assuming that Doyle and Manning’s eventual return doesn’t screw up the offensive chemistry the team has built up in their absence, the Rock look to be heading back to the playoffs with an eye to their third straight Championship game.

 

Coming later this week: The NLL West.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

After the All-Star game in Calgary in 2005, there was some talk about it on the Toronto all-sports radio station by none other than Bob McCown. I believe the lacrosse conversation lasted a couple of minutes tops, but one of the things they mentioned was that the NLL All-Star game was closer to a “normal” game than All-Star games in any other sport. And if you’ve ever watched a 170-165 NBA All-Star game, or an 11-10 NHL All-Star game, you know that All-Star games are rarely similar to typical games. This is true in lacrosse as well, but as Mr. McCown said, maybe less so, at least judging by the score.

The West All-Stars came back from a 9-2 deficit in the second quarter to defeat the East All-Stars 20-18 in the first NLL All-Star game held in Buffalo. Despite the fact that the score wasn’t outrageous – 20-18 is definitely a high-scoring lacrosse game, but not crazy high – the game was not a typical lacrosse game by any stretch of the imagination.

The Best of Times

Obviously the game featured the best indoor lacrosse players in the world. That in itself is reason enough to go. There were some very nice goals, some great saves, at least one great defensive play (maybe two), and some pretty slick passing. Getting to watch passing plays like “Tavares to Sanderson to Dawson to Wiles, he scores!” were amazing. There was lots of ball movement on transition (but I’ll get to why later), and many more behind-the-back or over-the-shoulder passes than in a typical game. Other than a few “Too many men” bench minors there were no penalties called, though this is fairly typical for All-Star games. But most of all, it was obvious that the players were having fun.

The Worst of Times

There was no real defense to speak of. There were no 8-second violations and only a handful of shot-clock violations or moving picks. There were almost no big hits (with one notable exception); in fact there was minimal physical contact of any kind. The reason there was so much transition was because half the time, an offensive player would hang back after a change of possession and not bother running down the floor to play defense or even head to the bench; then when his goalie grabbed the ball, he was able to rainbow a long pass up to him. There were a lot of missed passes (again, not surprising considering these are players who don’t normally play together).

In short, they just weren’t trying like they normally do. Again, this is not unusual or unexpected – first off, the game doesn’t count for anything, and nobody wants to lose the second half of the season because they got injured (or injure someone else) in a meaningless game. Plus everyone except the Bandits played the night before and everyone except the Rock, Knighthawks, and Bandits had to travel from the west either overnight or earlier that day.

I saw at least one tweet asking the Commissioner:

How can you possibly think forcing season ticket holders to watch such a “game” is good for the #nll

First off, he should have been asking the Bandits, not the commissioner. I agree that forcing season ticket holders to pay for a ticket to this game is unfair; the same arguments were made when the game was in Toronto in 2006. I don’t know if the Bandits allowed STH to opt out of that game. The same guy later said that it was a boring game, and I can’t really argue with that; the game didn’t have the electricity or intensity that most NLL games have. But he really should have known that going in and taken it for what it was – a fun game played by the best players in the world.

Some game notes:

  • John Grant shot the ball so hard it went by Aaron Bold and through the net. No goal was called so Troy Cordingley threw the challenge flag and the replay determined that the ball did go in.
  • Jeff Shattler scored a goal in the third and waved it off himself. When the refs said it was a good goal, Shattler shook his head and motioned to East coach Troy Cordingley to throw the challenge flag. No flag was thrown and the goal counted.
  • The one big hit was Luke Wiles on Aaron Bold. Bold had left the crease to corral the ball and Wiles nailed him into the boards. Not the biggest hit ever but certainly the biggest of the night, and since Wiles is a Buffalo Bandit, the home town crowd loved it.
  • Josh Sanderson seemed to be shooting all night but did not score. The scoresheet said he only took six shots, but that seems low to me.
  • After Shawn Williams first goal, the Buffalo announcer (who I’m a big fan of) announced the assists as “from Derek Suddons and #4. Not sure who #4 is, we’ll give it to Gavin Prout.” Both Geoff Snider (who got the assist) and Kyle Rubisch were wearing #4. Prout wears #9.
  • In a normal game, each coach will designate one player to serve all bench minors for that game. When the West got a “too many men” penalty in the first, John Grant served it. I was stunned that Grant was the guy that Chris Hall chose to serve the penalties, but then the other bench minors were served by different people, so obviously that rule was not in effect.

Other notes unrelated to the game itself:

  • There was a wide variety of music played, but I was surprised when I heard Billy Joel’s Piano Man. It’s a great song, but hardly the “let’s get this crowd pumped!” type of music they’d been playing the rest of the night. But then my friend noticed that the first lyric they played was “It’s 9:00 on a Saturday”. We checked our watches and sure enough, it was 9:00.
  • I brought my kids, and bought them a massive tub of popcorn – easily twice the size of the similarly-priced bags at the ACC. Note to First Niagara Center staff: the popcorn was really salty. You might want to tone the salt down a little, because it made me have to go back and buy another drink…. oh.
  • “The wave” started in the fourth quarter, but went the opposite direction (clockwise) to the direction it usually goes at the ACC. My son suggested that maybe this was because we’re in the US and they do things differently south of the border.
  • I love the atmosphere at Bandits games, and this was not much different. My kids noticed right away that the crowd was louder than that at the ACC, as always. But before the game, the PA announcer asked for a moment of silence to honour someone in the Buffalo lacrosse community who had passed away the day before. The silence in the arena during those 15-20 seconds was absolute.

Game Report: Rochester 12 at Toronto 16

It was a historic night in Toronto, for a number of reasons. The Toronto Rock honoured Bob Watson, one of the best goaltenders in lacrosse history, by retiring his number – the first such retirement in team history. It was historic for rookie Jesse Gamble, as he scored the first goal of his career. And history repeated itself, as this game was oddly reminiscent of a game from earlier this year:

  • both were played in Toronto on a Friday night against the Rochester Knighthawks
  • both saw the Rock win
  • both saw Colin Doyle leave the game in the second quarter and not return

The first time it was a “lower body injury” which turned out to be a hamstring problem. The Rock were without Doyle for two games – winning them both – and then lost the game in which he returned. Now they lose Doyle again, this time to an “upper body injury”. Doyle fell awkwardly into the crease and immediately grabbed his shoulder. He left the floor and his night was over. The Rock are now 0-3 in games where Doyle plays more than half the game, and 4-0 in games where he plays less than half. Obviously he’s a liability and the Rock need to ditch him, right? Hey, I wonder if Paul Rabil would… nah.

But after losing Doyle, the Rock lost someone else and immediately replaced him with someone much better. The Stephan Leblanc who’s struggled most of this season also struggled in the first half of this game, scoring zero points on roughly a million shots. A few minutes into the third quarter, he looked quite frustrated. But shortly after that, he was replaced by the Stephan Leblanc who we saw last year, and that Leblanc went on to score four goals and two assists within ten minutes of play in the third and fourth quarters.

The game was very streaky. Only three of the 28 goals scored were singletons, all in the fourth quarter. The Rock scored five, then Rochester four, then Toronto four, then Rochester four, then Toronto two, then Rochester two,… I won’t have much to say about this game in my Money Ballers column this week; not a single point was scored by any Knighthawks, and only two Rock goals qualified for Money Baller points.

The Rochester offense was spread out – only one player had more than 5 points and nobody scored more than two, but nine different people scored goals. Cody Jamieson was the top scorer, not surprisingly, and Jordan Hall had a strong game as well. Craig Point didn’t score but had four helpers, and Brad Self scored a couple of nice goals. However, their shooting accuracy was terrible. The Knighthawks were missing the net all night long, and not just by a little. Shots were soaring several feed wide at times – and I’m not talking about behind-the-back desperation shots or shots taken while running sideways or backwards, though there were plenty of those as well. No, many times a Knighthawk forward had time to plant his feet and fire  with nobody around him and still managed to miss the net by three feet. I just checked the game sheet to see if this impression was correct – the Knighthawks took 67 shots but only 37 hit the net, for a measly 55% shooting accuracy. The Rock took eight more shots than the Stealth, but had twenty-three more shots on goal, for an accuracy of 80%. The Rock also won 2/3 of the face-offs.

It seems odd to say that Rochester’s defense was pretty solid when the Rock scored 16, but the Rock had two different stretches of 10+ minutes without a goal; one of those was almost 15 minutes. Matt Vinc didn’t have his best game ever. Matt Roik played very well for the most part, though he did give up a couple of softies, and even allowed one over his right shoulder, presumably as an homage to Bob Watson.

But back to the Watson ceremony for a minute. I am a huge Watson fan, and I don’t deny for one second that Watson is deserving of having his number retired. But that said, I do have to wonder why he was the first Rock player to be so honoured. Both he and Jim Veltman are legends, both had long careers, both spent most of their careers with the Rock, both won several championships with the Rock, and both are in the NLL Hall of Fame. But Veltman went into the HoF a couple of years ago, while Watson has been retired for less than a year. The only explanation I can think of is that Veltman was an assistant coach with the Rock during the Kloepfer years. When that era ended, Glenn Clark and the rest of the coaching staff except Veltman were fired. Veltman was apparently given some sort of vague front office advisory position, but his employment with the Rock was never mentioned by the team again. Maybe there was some bad blood between the team and Veltman because of that, or for some other reason. But surely with new ownership, a new GM, and new coaches, the team can put all that behind them and retire #32.

Other notes:

  • Jesse Gamble had a great game, and not just because he had his first career goal and assist.
  • At one point in the second, the Rock had a shot clock violation, so the Rock player put the ball down. Knowing that the Rock were unable to touch the ball, the nearest Knighthawk defender made a move to pick it up, but ran by it without touching it and headed to the bench. The Rochester offense came out, and one of them grabbed the ball. Smart play by the Rochester defender to allow his team to get the offense set up.
  • Matt Roik picked up the ball in his crease, then went to pass to a Rock defender, but the ball fell out of his stick and rolled behind him. Lucky for him, he wasn’t standing directly in front of the net, so the ball didn’t roll into the net. And yes, if it had gone in, the goal would have counted. We’d have called that “pulling a Cosmo” since it happened to Cosmo when he was playing for the Rock in the early 2000’s.
  • The announced attendance was 10,274. Not a chance. I’d say there were no more than 7 or 8 thousand people in the ACC.
  • Did Jamie Dawick really say “Let’s win one for the Whipper?” Yes. Yes he did.

Interview: Teddy Jenner

Teddy JennerI recently had the chance to chat with the very busy Teddy Jenner – host of the Off the Crosse-bar radio show on TEAM 1410 in Vancouver, in-house voice of the Washington Stealth, and writer and podcaster on ILIndoor.com. Teddy is also a former NLL and WLA player, and won a couple of Mann Cups with his hometown Victoria Shamrocks in 2003 and 2005 (and almost 2002, as he mentions below). As you might expect from someone who has both a lacrosse radio show and a regular lacrosse podcast, Teddy loves to talk lacrosse. We talked about some of the surprises this season, issues facing the NLL, and about Teddy’s broadcasting and lacrosse careers.

Many thanks to Teddy for talking with me.


Graeme Perrow: With the Mammoth starting 6-0, the Stealth starting 1-5, Minnesota’s rookies playing as well as they have, and Buffalo losing 4 in a row, there have been a number of surprises in the NLL this year. What team has surprised you the most?
Teddy Jenner: I think the biggest story this year has to be the poor start by the Washington Stealth. As the in-house announcer I get an up close and personal look at the Stealth and they aren’t the same team I’ve seen the past two years. There could be a number of reasons why they aren’t doing as well this year and I think a lot of it has to do with personnel changes. Doug Locker does a great job putting talent together and he finds a solid mix of talent but for some reason this year it hasn’t gone to plan. The loss of guys like Matt Roik, Craig Conn and Tom Johnson while may have seemed to be ‘minimal’ losses are proving wrong. Conn and Johnson were grinders – they did the little things that Marty O’Neil talked about in his IL Indoor article. And not having Matt Roik as backup to T-Rich is a bigger loss than most people think. Nothing against Chris Seidel but when the Stealth had Roiker they could switch tenders and be ok – I don’t see that confidence this year from the Stealth. One other huge loss has been Zywicki. As talented as Ratcliff and Duch are, Z was the floor leader. He was the calming presence on the floor that helped keep the ball moving, controlled the tempo of the O and was able to settle things down.

GP: Which will have a bigger impact on the Washington Stealth: the addition of Athan Iannucci to a struggling offense, or the return of head coach Chris Hall?
TJ: I think A.I. is a very talented ball player; you have to be to put up 71 goals in a year but he’s not the answer for the Stealth. As I said they need a floor general to distribute the ball, keep it moving and share the wealth to everyone. Can AI do that or be that kind of player? Possibly, hell any of their O guys could step up and be that player but it’s not in their makeup. Getting CH will be a dynamic shift. Art Webster was one of my childhood idols growing up when he played WLA with the Victoria Payless with a helmet and no facemask, wielding his woodstick like a machete. The guy played a WLA game when he was fifty! I also have the utmost respect for him as a person and a coach – however I don’t think he has control of that room. CH will come in and instantly change the vibe. I’ve played under CH and he just has a way with words that can get you fired up like no other coach can. People have said to me “but it’s not like CH hasn’t been in contact with all his coaches while away,” and they’re right, he has. But being there in person holds so much more weight than 2nd hand messages. Look for the Stealth to get back on track this weekend with CH at the helm.

GP: What’s your opinion on the Paul Rabil situation in Edmonton? Should the league get involved to prevent these kinds of situations, and if so, what can be done?
TJ: I’ve hummed and hawed over this for days, years really. The fact of the matter is that the NLL doesn’t pay players enough to force them to change, relocate or even fly-in to a specific team just because they have their rights. Do I think what Rabil’s doing is good for the game? Of course not, but what he’s doing for him personally it is the right choice. He had been asking for a trade back east for the past two seasons but Washington couldn’t find a deal that worked for them as well. Simple solution – find a way for players to live off the NLL and then moving to that city won’t be such a burden.

GP: Some have claimed that parity is sports is a bad thing – people look back and remember the years when the Yankees / Oilers / Rock were so dominant and they remember the dynasties. Nobody reminisces about the years when anyone could have won and there was no clear favourite. The NLL has about as much parity now as ever – do you think this is good or bad for the league?
TJ: I love the parity! As great are dynasties are (for that city/team/fans) it doesn’t do much to spread the growth of the game, if one team is winning every year after year. When any team has a chance to win I think it’s awesome! How cool would it be to see the Swarm win a title? Or Edmonton, then the next year Philly get it? The back and forth between the Rock and Stealth has been great. A bit of a rivalry has built but also the reach of the game has grown. Parity in the NLL or any sport provides fantastic competition across the board.

GP: Who are some of the first- and second-year players in the league today that you think could make a major impact in the future?
TJ: Andrew Suitor is one of the first names that comes to mind. The kid’s a beast and is playing like a 7 year vet in just year 2. He was so mentally and physically ready in his first year it was silly. Look at the list of first and 2nd year players who are from Orangeville – scary!! Kyle Rubisch is another guy that possessed so many NLL ready qualities before he even played an NLL game. He’s a monster and will be a long time top 5 defender for many many years. I really could go on and on, Crowley, Travis Cornwall, Dickson, Jamieson, Keogh etc. etc. etc… The one guy this year that actually caught me off guard was Johnny Powless in Rochester – for some reason I pictured him as Kedoh Hill – small, still needs to grow and mature a bit more and would struggle in his first year… BOY WAS I WRONG!!

GP: BREAKING NEWS: Teddy Jenner is the new NLL commissioner! What’s the first rule change you make?
TJ: First off, I’d force the Aquilini family (owners of the Vancouver Canucks) to buy a team and make them hire CH [Chris Hall] as the GM and give Ed Comeau the head coach job…. But my first rule change would be to shut the 30 second shot clock off when a team is shorthanded. I know there are pros and cons to this but I think a team should have to work to get the ball back when on the power-play. Fans will completely rally behind watching their players rag the ball for 45 seconds or more killing off the penalty and gaining momentum. I’d also gas instant replay unless every rink had an overhead camera that worked, and at least 2 different camera angles to access – because without it, you get goals like Geoff Snider’s vs Washington two weeks ago where he was 2 feet in the crease and the ref was at the restraining line.

GP: What’s the first change you make that doesn’t involve on-floor rules?
TJ: Improving the quality of our product to our viewers is huge. If a game isn’t on TV, and really not many are, how are the outlets going to get to see it? First off, create an intenet/TV show – 30/60 minutes in length but it would have game highlights, interviews, guests, etc., professionally done and full of sponsors. Also, I’d fix the league website. I know they just revamped it but come on, taking me to an offsite spreadsheet that takes forever to load if I want to look up the career stats of any past player is ridiculous. I’m not sure whose idea it was to change from the old site – while it did need a face lift, they didn’t need a brand new site… Pointstreak where are you?!?!

Jenner in 2005GP: Moving away from the NLL, let’s talk about your broadcasting career a little. How did that come about? Were you looking to get into radio, or did it happen accidentally?
TJ: I’ve always wanted to be in broadcasting. Vic Rauter and Graham Leggat doing Soccer Saturdays on TSN when I was a kid consumed me! Chris Berman was an icon, Leif ‘he’s got rope’ Elsmo was the guy I always wanted to be and I knew it was where I’d end up. Four years of College in Erie, PA and a journalism degree with a sports broadcasting concentration threw me into the fire (thanks to Craig Rybczynski, the Knighthawks PR guy, who was one of my teachers). I did everything I could to be involved in the behind-the-scenes work of Knighthawk games in my rookie year, even did colour for a game with Craig when we were in Ottawa one game. I was hooked. Once I was out of the league, I started giving back. Working with Sportsnet for the Minto Cup back in mid 2000s, working for different radio and TV stations doing anything and everything I could. Then I started writing for RudeBoys lacrosse as their west coast analyst, which led me to working more and more with Paul Tutka who brought me into NLL Insider [now IL Indoor] 4 years ago.

While writing for IL, I was working for the family car biz (I did not enjoy that but family comes first). I needed a change but everywhere I went for work in radio I was told I needed more experience. So my pops found a 10 month radio school program in Vancouver. 10 months later and after a two month internship at TEAM 1040 radio in Vancouver, I had a job there as producer and board operator. From the first day I was there I was asking how I could get my own lacrosse radio show and they said all I had to do was find people who were willing to sponsor my show by buying advertising time on the station and I’d be good to go. Well thanks to some great sponsors, last May 3 Off the Crosse-bar launched and has been rolling ever since!

GP: Who has been your favourite person to interview so far?
TJ: Every lacrosse guy has been great cause we’re all on common ground and all want the best for the game. I’ve never been turned down for an interview cause lacrosse guys love to talk! But I love talking to old school guys that played when there were less pads and all wooden sticks! Chris Hall, Kevin Alexander can tell stories till they’re blue in the face. I like talking with guys I played against, cause I always despised them but knew they had their own stories. Curt Malawsky was one of those guys. I hated playing against him but if you ever sit down and chat with him, his knowledge of the game is so vast its crazy! But then talking to some of the young guys who are really humble and realize their place in the game is very refreshing as well.

GP: A few quick questions on your playing career. Who was the toughest goalie to score on?
TJ: I never liked playing against Rob Blasdell in the NLL – he was just so big and unorthodox in the pipes. I could have him cold beat out of position but he’d throw a leg out in some odd position and make the save. But in the summer time Curtis Palidwor – I could often get him with the twister, but most of the time he had my number.

GP: Best defender you’ve ever faced:
TJ: Andy Turner hands down! I remember when he and Tom Hajek came out west in Jr to play for Burnaby, they just had this attitude and style that I had never seen before and it was terrifying!

GP: Toughest forward to defend against:
TJ: Any guy that was always moving without the ball. Guys like JT, Curt Malawsky, Aaron Wilson may not be the fastest guys but they’re so crafty off the ball that you always have to keep your eye on them or they’ll literally pull you off balance and run right by you, score a goal, then let you know about it.

GP: Favourite arena to play in as a visitor:
TJ: The really loud ones! My first ever game was in Philadelphia and I remember the interview I did before the game (for halftime on the online broadcast). I talked about watching my brother play there and the lure of 18000 fans telling the opposing players they sucked! I looked forward to that moment, so when they called my name I sort of paused and soaked it in. Then I scored my first goal on Dallas Eliuk and we got spanked! But the noise in that rink was unreal. The Pepsi Centre in Denver and First Niagara in Buffalo were the other two just ’cause the fans are nuts (read: passionate). I was on the floor for the first ever sock trick when Gary Gait scored 6 on us (Anaheim). Matt Disher and I were standing there looking at each other – “are they throwing fucking socks?!” I loved playing there cause you knew you were the enemy!

GP: Mann Cup or NLL Championship?
TJ: Well I have two Mann Cups but I should have had 3 (see the 2002 Mann Cup vs. Brampton where we were down 3-0 after the first 3 games, won the next 3, then were up 7-1 midway through the 3rd period and lost) but since I never won it, I’d like a shot at a Champions Cup one more time. But it doesn’t look too easy to drink out of!

GP: How much field lacrosse have you played?
TJ: I played field from when I was like 13 on. I went to prep High School in the US for grade 9 and 10 – Western Reserve Academy (aka WRA) then the 4 years playing NCAA field lacrosse as well. I grew up playing box in the summer and soccer in the winter, then when I was 13, I dropped soccer and picked up field lax from then on it was summers in the box and winters playing field. Then even after college when I was back home in the off seasons I was playing club ball/house league in Victoria.

GP: Do you prefer to play field or box lacrosse?
TJ: Box all the way! Field’s great but I actually find it more relaxing to play cause it’s more controlled and mechanical. Box is an all out sprint all game!!

Week 8 picks

Like fellow Rock fan and blogger Jon Turner, I had another 2-2 week. I’ve now gone 2-2 in four of the seven weeks so far this season, which means I’m better than .500 this year at having .500 weeks! In terms of my picks, I had a pretty average week, but outside of that, it wasn’t an average week at all. Not only did my sister have a baby on Sunday (totally not lacrosse-related, but pretty freakin’ awesome), but I will be posting my first-ever interview here on NLL Chatter tomorrow. If those weren’t awesome enough, there’s more. I posted an article about Geoff Snider, which he read and liked. But wait! There’s still more! Again like Jon Turner, I also won a trivia contest on Twitter today run by the Toronto Rock. The third  question of the day was “Who was the other goalie alongside Whipper on the 1988 Founders Cup Champion KW Braves?” and I was the first to answer Steve Dietrich (full disclosure: a somewhat educated guess on my part, in that I was pretty sure Chugger was from K-W), so I won an autographed All-Star Card and lacrosse ball.

So I’m now 5 games below .500 overall, which means that even if I go 4-0 this week, I’ll still be under .500. But this is the week, I just know it. This is the week where…. ah, who am I kidding? Let’s just get to my random guesses predictions for week 8:

Record: 11-16 (.407)

Game
Comments
Pick
CAL @ COL If anyone can beat the Mammoth, it’s the Roughnecks, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they did. But as I said last week, I’m just going to keep picking Colorado until they lose. Mammoth
PHI @ EDM Philly’s first in the east, Edmonton is second-last in the west. Easy pick, right? If you think so, you’re new to this game. There are no easy picks. Could the Rush pull off the upset and beat the Wings? Sure they could, and I almost picked them to beat the Wings. But then I remembered last week’s game against the Rock. The Wings offense is starting to click, and their defense was outstanding. Wings
ROC @ TOR This will be a tough one for the Rock. They got spanked by the Wings last week so they’ll be angry. But Rochester pulled out a gutsy win last week without their top scorer and a bunch of other starters, and those guys are all back this week. I think Matt Roik will rebound from last week and the Rock will head into the All-Star game above .500 – unlike myself. Rock
MIN @ WAS Another tough one but coaching comes into play in this game, almost more than the players. Minnesota has been playing well of late but inexplicably fired coach Mike Lines yesterday. This game will be Joe Sullivan’s first as head coach, and also marks the return of Chris Hall to the Stealth bench. I think Hall’s return after fighting cancer will be a huge lift to the team, and might just turn their season around. Stealth
West @ East I’ll make a couple of predictions on the All-Star game: (1) My younger son will be playing on his iPod at some point during the game, causing me to question buying him a ticket. (2) Getting out of the parking lot after the game will be a nightmare. (3) Over/under on goals scored: 35, and I’m taking the over. ?

Previous weeks:

Week 1 – 0-1

Week 2 – 2-2

Week 3 – 2-2

Week 4 – 2-4

Week 5 – 2-2

Week 6 – 1-3

Week 7 – 2-2

Geoff Snider: Top of the List

Geoff Snider is not the most popular guy in the NLL.

I know what you’re thinking – “You can’t make controversial statements like that unless you can back it up”, but I don’t need to. First of all, it ain’t that controversial. Secondly, Geoff backed it up himself this past weekend on Twitter by RT’ing a number of  “fans” telling him he’s a douchebag, that he has no class, and a couple of others with some more colourful language. As Mike Wilson succinctly said on the NLL Blog: awesome. He could have chirped back, he could have tried to defend himself, he could have “taken the high road” and simply ignored them. But just an RT with no extra comment was even better.

There was a time that I didn’t like Snider either. I watched him play as a member of the Philadelphia Wings for a few years, and I initially thought he was just another punk who liked to fight and happened to own a lacrosse stick. I did have to admit that his skill in the face-off circle was impressive, putting him a step above the average NLL fighter, but still not at the level of “good lacrosse player”.

But as time went on, I started to notice him a little more. First off, he got more floor time than your average FOGO or fighter, and he did score goals now and again. OK, so maybe he does have some actual lacrosse skill beyond face-offs and fighting. And come to think of it, he’s not just a good face-off guy, he’s an outstanding face-off guy. I’ve seen games where Snider sets up for a faceoff and the other team just concedes it, presumably because it’s not worth sending a face-off guy out there; they just let him have the ball and get their defense set up.

Then an interesting thing happened. I was at a game where the Wings were playing; I have a feeling it was in Buffalo, though it might have been in Toronto. The game was starting to get rather physical (which is why I think it might have been Buffalo). There were no fights, but there were a number of occasions where it looked like there was going to be. Then a player got in Snider’s face and there was some shoving, and the other player dropped his gloves and ran at Snider. I don’t remember the details of exactly what happened, but essentially Snider ignored him and walked calmly to the bench. The other player got a penalty, and the Wings scored on the resulting power play.

I may not have described the play exactly right, but the long and the short of it is that he realized that a fight was not necessary, and his presence on the floor would be more helpful to his team than having him in the penalty box for five minutes. This was a very smart plan on Snider’s part. He could see that the other player wanted to go; it’s almost as if he taunted the other guy into losing his mind and attacking him, knowing it would get him a penalty. If he fought, they’d both have gotten majors. Since he didn’t, his team got the advantage. Of course the opposing fans were all over him calling him every name in the book, though if you’ve ever actually watched Snider fight, “coward” is not a word that applies.

Does he make the odd stupid decision and take unnecessary penalties? Sure he does. No player as passionate as Snider doesn’t. On his Off the Crossebar radio show, Teddy Jenner recently said of Snider “He won’t shy away from a fight”, which is is absolutely true. Will he fight if the situation calls for it? Yes, and he’ll probably win. But if a fight opportunity presents itself, will he walk away if he thinks it would help his team? Yes. This doesn’t make him a coward, and it doesn’t make him a douchebag. It makes him a smart lacrosse player.

Many fans (and players!) have a list of people who they hate playing against but would love to have on their team. I know it’ll never happen since Snider’s a Calgary boy playing in his home town, and I know there are a lot of Rock fans would disagree with me, but Snider’s at the top of my list.

Game report: Philadelphia 14 @ Toronto 8

Sorry for the delay on the game report, dear reader, I know you have been on the edge of your seat since Saturday night thinking “For the love of Jim Veltman, when will he post it?!” You can blame my sister for having a baby yesterday. I tried to get her to reschedule so I could get this article done, but nooooooo. Some people think of nobody but themselves. Though I have to say that my brand new niece is pretty darned adorable.

Anyway, as you probably already know, the Philly Wings got redemption on Saturday for the beat-down the Rock gave them two weeks ago by beating the Toronto Rock 14-8. The game was pretty close for the first half, tied at 1, 2, 3, and 4 before Kevin Crowley scored twice within a minute to put the Wings up by 2 at the half. Johnny Mouradian’s halftime pep talk must have been more effective than Troy Cordingley’s, since Brendan Mundorf and Dan Dawson scored two more in the first two minutes of the second half to put the Wings up 8-4. The Rock scored a couple to get as close as 8-6, but then it was all Wings, as they scored two more in the third, and both times the Rock scored in the fourth, the Wings answered back a minute later. Another goal by Dawson chased Matt Roik for the first time in his Rock career, and then Drew Westervelt beat Pat Campbell to end the scoring.

Matt Roik was just as solid in the first half as in his previous games this year, but started to lose it in the third as the game got more and more out of hand. A couple of the later goals were a little softer than the ones we’ve seen him give up so far this year, but I certainly wouldn’t pin the loss squarely on him. The Rock offense looked similar to the offense in the first couple of games, i.e. mostly not there. Garrett Billings and the new guys (Rooney, Thenhaus, and Carey) definitely showed up to play, but Sanderson and Leblanc looked frustrated, and Colin Doyle was pretty much a non-factor in his return from injury.

As an aside and to take a page from Dave Barry’s book, Billings and the New Guys would be a good name for a rock band.

The Rock with Colin Doyle in the lineup are 1-3 with an average of 10 goals per game (and in the one win, Doyle got 0 points in less than two quarters before getting injured). The Rock without Doyle are 2-0 with an average of 14.5 goals per game. If you count the game where he got injured (and wasn’t a factor) as a game without him, it changes to 0-3 and 9 goals with Doyle, 3-0 and 14 goals without. Of course, that’s not to say “Doyle makes the team worse” – it’s not that simple – but it does make you wonder if Troy and the boys will be looking at other differences in how the offense was run before the next game.

The Rock took a  lot of shots that hit Wings goalie Brandon Miller square in the chest or missed the net completely; in fact the Rock had three different breakaways (two from Mike Hobbins and one from Brendan Thenhaus) where the shooter missed the net. But in saying that the Rock took lousy shots, I don’t want to take anything away from the play of Brandon Miller, who was very solid in the Wings net. The Wings defense was absolutely stellar, especially in the second half. There was one play where Garrett Billings had the ball right in front of the Wings net for at least 15 seconds, and in that time he was covered so well that he had no opportunity to either shoot or pass and ended up having to just drop the ball when the shot clock ran out.

The Wings offense was pretty impressive. Brendan Mundorf scored five, including two on the power play, and Dan Dawson scored three and added seven assists. Kevin Crowley added another hattrick, and now has four in his six career games. But take a look at this comparison between the Wings offense and the Rock defense:

Rock defenders:

  • Codd, 5’8″
  • Bryan, Chapman, Sanderson, 5’9″
  • Merrill, 6’0″

Wings forwards:

  • Dawson, Westervelt, 6’5″
  • Crowley, Merrill (yes, mostly transition but he played up front a lot) 6’4″
  • Crotty, 6’2″

At one point, Dan Dawson ran by a Rock defender and I think he pulled the ol’ swim move, but it could be that his arm went over the head of the defender while he was running. It was hard to tell. Given that size difference, the fact that the Rock managed to hold the Wings to only 6 goals two weeks ago is doubly amazing.

The Rock host Rochester this Friday while the Wings play in Edmonton before the All-Star game on Saturday.

Other notes:

  • The Rock brought Jesse Gamble back from the practice roster when Marshall got hurt, and then didn’t play him.
  • I’ve said before that I am impressed at how Colin Doyle stands still during the anthems and even sings along to O Canada. As the camera panned down the Rock players during the anthem, I saw at least two others (one was Patrick Merrill, don’t remember who the other was) who were also singing along. Kudos to them.
  • For a while, I thought “Man, Dan Dawson is everywhere tonight!”, then realized that sometimes he wore a different number. Duh. Both he and his brother Paul Dawson just have “Dawson” on their jerseys, with no first initial.
  • I got a few looks from my fellow Rock fans when I actually applauded a goal by the Wings. Drew Westervelt scored a kind of “backwards Air Gait” in the second, where he dove out from behind the net and backhanded it in on the far side of Matt Roik. Outstanding goal. Of course, that kind of goal is a little easier when your arms are eight feet long.
  • On one play in the first, Billings grabbed the ball to try and avoid an over-and-back violation but stepped over the line. The ref blew the whistle and Billings put the ball down, but I guess he rolled it and as Brodie Merrill ran by and tried to pick it up on the fast break, he missed it because it was rolling. He stopped running and literally jumped up and down twice. The ref did give Billings a delay of game minor, and I agree that it was deserved given the new rule, but I was less than impressed with Merrill’s display. I’ve seen that kind of behaviour in my nine-year-old son sometimes, but he’s nine. There were a few other occasions where Merrill complained loudly to the refs, sometimes quite animatedly. I have heard other (non-Edmonton) fans in the past talk about Brodie Merrill’s antics and call him a whiner, but I’d never really noticed it myself. On Saturday I got to see it first-hand.
  • The Wings had at least three or four broken sticks. To the Philly Wings equipment manager: I’m pretty sure balsa wood sticks are not allowed in the NLL.